Although everyone has their own approach to garden work, there are a few tools that could be considered essential to gardening. Luckily, most of the essential tools are low-tech and also fairly inexpensive to buy, and many cities also have tool banks that will lend you these basics. Besides the basics, there are a few other useful tools that may come in handy, and it helps to be familiar with the heavy duty tools and equipment that may be needed in larger projects.
Download the ACGA "Ten Tools every Community Garden and Gardener Needs" (PDF):
A well-made trowel is one of your most important tools. From container gardening to large beds, a trowel will help you get your plants into the soil. Essential for everyone.
Hand Fork or Claw or Cultivator
A hand fork helps cultivate soil, chop up clumps, and work amendments into the soil. A hand fork is necessary for cultivating in closely planted beds.
A long-handled hoe is a gardener's best friend. Keeping weeds at bay is the purpose of this useful tool. Hoe heads come in all different shapes and sizes, and every gardener swears by a different one.
Secateurs or Hand Pruners
Invest in a pair of quality pruners, such as Felco, which is clearly a cut above. There are different types and sizes depending upon the type and size of the job. Secateurs are for cutting small diameters, up to the thickness of your little finger. Anything larger and you need loppers.
A watering can creates a fine even stream of water that delivers with a gentleness that won't wash seedlings or sprouting seeds out of the soil.
You can't dig and divide perennials without a heavy-duty fork (and some dividing methods even suggest you own two!).
Spades and Shovels
There are several different types and shapes of shovels and spades, each with their own purpose. There are also different types of hand holds for either - a "D" shape, a "T" shape, or none at all. They are a requisite tool for planting large perennials, shrubs, and trees, breaking ground, moving soil, leaves, just about anything. The sharper the blade, the better.
Wheelbarrows come in all different shapes and sizes (and prices). They are indispensable for hauling soil, compost, plants, mulch, hoses, tools...everything you'll need to garden.
Unless you want to wear your favorite hobby under your nails, use gloves. Leather gloves hold up best. If you have roses, get a pair that resists thorn pricks.
This is the fastest way to transport lots of water. Consider using drip irrigation hoses or tape.
Other Useful Tools
For cleaning up dried leaves, grass clippings, or other debris, a leaf rake can come in handy. Because it is lightweight, it is easy to handle and will not damage vegetation.
A short tined rake can come in handy for leveling soil, or for cleaning branches or other debris from a new planting bed.
For watering large areas, a sprinkler attachment for hose can come in very useful. Also good for a fun distraction on a hot day!
A watering wand is useful for watering hanging baskets, container gardens, or other hard-to-reach spots.
These heavy-duty tools are sometimes needed for larger gardens or projects, but are typically very expensive to purchase. Since most gardens will only need these types of tools very rarely, it makes economic sense to rent them. You can rent from lawn and garden equipment dealers, farm equipment dealers, garden centers, and even hardware stores. These types of tools are cumbersome and dangerous to use, and should only be operated by someone with experience in handling heavy equipment.
Used once a year to work up your garden in the spring.
Used to remove damaged tree branches or other heavy-duty clearing work.
Used in clearing old tree stumps.
Versatile machinery that can be used with multiple attachments to perform any number of tasks, including tilling, excavating, and harvesting.
Powerful tools for excavation, used for projects such as trench digging for the installation of an underground irrigation system.
Powered Posthole Diggers
Useful when erecting garden structures that require deep, narrow holes, such as a fence.